Krathong Crafting: How to Make a River Lantern for Thailand’s Big Festival

Offering, gift, present: whatever you call it, it’s something that has a special meaning to a culture, something that has a history and is to be respected.

In Thailand, there is a festival called Loy Krathong. It is a Siamese festival celebrated annually in the first week of November. The word krathong can be translated as “to float a basket,” and comes from the tradition of making buoyant decorated baskets. Locals send the beautifully handcrafted offerings down the river to the Goddess of Water to apologize for the pollution and to show appreciation for the abundance of fresh, clean water.

Walking along the streets of old Chiang Mai, we came across a number of beautiful temples decorated intricately with gold trimmings. We chose to visit one particular temple, Wat Phan Tao, for its grandeur and size. And while we knew we would find some gorgeous sights, we didn’t realize what a warm welcome we were in for.

yi peng decorations

Folding banana leaves into a krathong is a tricky skill. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

After we walked through the elaborately carved wooden archways, the friendly faces of three men greeted us. They worked in the temple, handing out sarongs to men and women who might be showing too much skin. With hearts as big as their smiles, they offered to teach us how to make a krathong from banana-tree trunk, banana leaves and flowers. How could we not accept?

We sat down with a man who introduced himself as A (when we asked him to repeat his name, he recited the alphabet: “A, B, C… A”) who set us up with a slice of banana-tree trunk the size of a side plate. It was wet, sticky and reminded me of honeycomb. They used banana plant ingredients, A explained, because the fish could eat them after they drift down the river.

chiang mai buddhist temples

Our guide, A, shows Abra how it’s done. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

Then, we learned how to roll banana leaves around our index fingers and fold them into points. This was not as easy as it looked. The banana leaves are quite stiff, like construction paper, and crack if not handled with care.

Once we mastered the art of rolling, we nailed the fresh green spikes around the sides of the tree trunk slab to resemble a crown. Inside the “crown” we arranged bright, yellow marigold flowers and a another flower that looked like a cross between a daffodil and a purple lily, which I have since referred to as a “Daffolily.”

wat chiang mai

Our finished product. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

In the centre of our creation, we placed incense sticks to be lit once the krathong is released into the river. Our beautiful offering was now complete and ready to be offered to the Goddess of Water in the Mae Ping river.

But how we did that is Jess’s story, and you’ll have to wait to see it for yourself.

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